First Update; pages 903-906



Protocol of the U.S.-Russia Workshop on Sea Otter Biology Under the Marine Mammal Project, 02.05-61 U.S.-Russia Environmental Agreement, Wasilla, 22 October 1993


Done at Wasilla, Alaska 22 October 1993
Primary source citation: Copy of text provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Interior



The Fourth U.S.-Russian joint sea otter meeting was held at Wasilla, Alaska, 18-22 October 1993. Representing the U.S. side were: J. Bodkin, B.E. Ballachey, A. DeGange, D. Burn, A. Doroff, J. Estes, G. Esslinger, E. Faurot-Daniels, C. Faanes, D.L. Garshelis, C. Gorbics, L. Holland-Bartels, A. Johnson, B. Kelly, L. Lowry, J.A.K. Mazet, M. C. McCormick, J. Nickles, M. Reidman, M. Staedler, N. Stevens, G. VanBlaricom, J. Taggart, P. Ward.

Representing the Russian side were: A.G. Bazhin, A.M. Burdin, V. Burkanov, V. Nikulin, V.V. Oshurkov, D.A. Ryazanov, I.N. Shevchenko.

The meeting was opened on 18 October, 1993 in Wasilla, Alaska by J.L. Bodkin with welcoming remarks by Marine Mammals/Fisheries Chief, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Research Center, L. Holland-Bartels. The meetings sessions were chaired by B. Ballachey, J. Bodkin, A. DeGange and A. Doroff.

Sea Otter Research and Management Presentations

B.E. Ballachey provided an overview of research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on sea otters in Prince William Sound, Alaska, following the "Exxon Valdez oil spill of March 1989. J. L. Bodkin presented preliminary results on the development of an aerial technique to estimate the abundance of sea otters. The method includes means to account for animals not observed on strip transects with intensive searches with strips.

D.L. Garshelis summarized the results of boat-based surveys of sea otters conducted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill and presented a scenario that explained high numbers of otters by an increasing food base, which increased their carrying capacity.

J.A.K. Mazet presented a protocol for evaluating the effects of environmental petroleum hydrocarbons on sea otters using the American mink as a laboratory animal model. In addition, developing diagnostic tests for the detection of petroleum hydrocarbons in blood and on the fur of sea otters were discussed.

J.A. Estes discussed the evolutionary importance of sea otters in kelp forest communities. The influence of sea otters as top-level predators was evaluated by comparing marine plant/herbivore interactions between the northeast Pacific (sea otters present) and Australasia (otters absent). Australasian kelp forests experience chronically high levels of herbivory and probably have through the late Cenozoic. In apparent response, Australasian algae are well-defended by secondary metabolites and the herbivores have evolved a tolerance to these chemicals.

J.A. Estes summarized preliminary data on levels of PCBs and DDT/DDE from sea otters in central California, southeast Alaska, and the western Aleutian Islands. As expected, PCB and DDT/DDE levels were relatively high in central California and low in southeast Alaska. However, both classes of pollutants were higher than expected in the Aleutian Islands. The source of these materials in the Aleutian Islands is unknown.

A. DeGange summarized the sea otter management plan developed by the Fish and Wildlife Service for Alaska, presenting options for management and the conservation of nearshore marine resources.

A.M. Doroff presented data on juvenile sea otter post-weaning survival in eastern and western Prince William Sound following the "Exxon Valdez oil spill of March 1989. C. Faanes reported on the status of the translocated sea otter population in California and discussed possible future considerations of management decisions regarding the translocation.

C. Gorbics summarized the future direction of sea otter restoration related to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. A council of state and federal trustees will make decisions on how future settlement money will be spent. It is likely that the trustees will support some level of monitoring recovery of sea otter populations including monitoring of populations, physiological effects, and mortality patterns.

B.P. Kelly reported on the development of regional sea otter conservation plans by the Alaska Sea Otter Commission (ASOC). The ASOC is made up of Native subsistence hunters from communities throughout the sea otter's range in Alaska. A conservation plan for the Southeast Alaska region will be completed in the coming year. The plan will proscribe conservative harvest limits, so that the subsistence take will not be a threat to the sea otter population. Conflicts between sea otters and Native people for shellfish likely will intensify in the next few years.

E. Faurot-Daniels offered the perspective of a sea otter advocacy and conservation group (Friends of the Sea Otter) on the issue of Alaska Native take of sea otters. FSO does not challenge the right of Natives to take sea otters for subsistence purposes; their concern is in seeing that harvest guidelines not only utilize the best available biological knowledge, but that Native plans be sensitive to the social and political implications of various management decisions.

V. Nikulin reported on the preliminary results from a Bering Island study of seasonal aspects of birth rates in the sea otter population. During the period from November, 1992 to September, 1993, monthly counts of sea otters were conducted in a designated study area in the northern part of Bering Island. The period of maximum abundance of newborn pups occurred in May. The period of maximum abundance of all pups occurred in June.

V. Oshurkov reported on the benthic community structure of the Commander Islands and the long term changes in the distribution and abundance of some invertebrate species effected by sea otter predation. The mechanisms of competition and succession in nearshore algae communities was discussed.

I. Shevchenko reported on trends in the Commander Islands sea otter population for the last five years. Abundance decreased for the three most recent years by 49%. In 1993 on the Commander Islands 2,300 sea otters were counted; pups comprised 21% (n=480).

A. Bazhin addressed the monitoring of algal/sea urchin populations in rocky benthic communities that are influenced by sea otter predation. The work was conducted on the eastern coast of Kamchatka. As a result of sea otter foraging, urchin sizes are reduced in shallow water and increase with depth.

D. Ryazanov spoke on the cementum of sea otter teeth as a registering structure and its use in age determination and other aims. There are showing differences in age estimations had made by different persons. Brightness of cementum color corresponds to the color of the entire skeleton. There are substantial geography-related differences in cementum color.

A. Burdin presented data on long term changes in sea otter diet in the Asian range. He indicated that sea otter populations with different population status have different feeding strategies.

G. VanBlaricom presented a general synthesis of interactions of sea otters and shellfish prey. He suggested a general model, and proposed key variables that influence behavior of the model. The synthesis was based primarily on data from California, but is applicable to interactions in any location.

M. Riedman presented preliminary summaries of observations made on tagged sea otters in Monterey indicating that territorial males differed in their foraging strategies from adult females by foraging a greater distance from shore and frequently stealing food from females; the amount of prey males stole accounted for 1/4 to 1/3 of the total number of prey items males ingested.

Collaborative Research and Future Workshop Meeting

Both sides have determined and agreed on research programs to be conducted in 1994 and 1995, both within their own countries and jointly.

"Russian side proposed:

1. To invite 2 U.S. specialists to review archived records of the Russian-America Company to obtain data on sea otter distribution, abundance and demography, during the hunting period. Work to be conducted in St. Petersburg, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and Moscow in 1994. 2. To invite in 1994 or 1995, 2-3 U.S. specialists to take part in the Kamchatka Institute of Ecology expedition at Kronotsky Cape to study local sea otter populations and benthic communities.

3. To provide tissue samples of sea otters from the Kurile and Commander Islands, and the Kamchatka Peninsula to the U.S. side for contaminants and histopathological analyses.

4. To provide information to the U.S. side on fiscal requirements for supporting conservation of sea otter populations in the Kurile and Commander Islands, and the Kamchatka Peninsula.

5. To invite 2 U.S. specialists to Russia in 1995 to evaluate the effects of petroleum hydrocarbon exposure on sea otters.

6. To invite 2-3 U.S. sea otter specialists to participate in a joint study of sea otter abundance and reproductive biology in 1994 or 1995 at the Commander Islands.

"The U.S. side proposed:

1. To invite 2 Russian researchers in the summer of 1994 to work in west/central Aleutian Islands and possibly in the Kurile Islands on the U.S. RV Alpha Helix. Work will entail collecting sea otter population data, and the study of benthic community ecology and related marine systems.

2. The same invitation and work mentioned in the above may be done in 1995 as well.

3. To provide sea otter premolars and canines from specimens whose time of death is known to Russian scientists for evaluation of registering structures.

4. To continue cooperative research on sea otter diving behavior using time-depth recorders and radio transmitters at Bering Island in 1994 or 1995. 5. Agrees to support Russian sea otter research through the transfer of excess equipment as available.

"It was jointly recommended:

One or more active U.S. sea otter research scientist would assist in development and review of Russian/U.S. manuscripts suitable for publication in U.S. or other peer reviewed journals.

The U.S. side will compile a bibliography of sea otter research in the U.S. To hold the next sea otter work shop in Kamchatka, Russia in 1995 and that sea otter specialists from Canada, Mexico and Japan be invited to participate.

Signed 27 October 1993 in English and Russian texts, both versions being identical and equally authentic.

For the Russian side [Signature] Alexander M. Burdin

For the U.S. side [Signature] James L. Bodkin